Thursday, May 17, 2018

"The Wedding" (1982)

Story by Joy Williams not available online.

This Joy Williams story left me a little cold. It seemed too typical of a certain post-Carver mold, both in terms of its focus on vaguely underclass losers and its self-conscious minimalist aesthetics. The two characters who marry in this story, Elizabeth and Sam, are full-grown adults with previous failed relationships. She is 30 and has a 5-year-old daughter. He seems a little older, in his 40s, married three times. He's also likely an alcoholic. It feels like a marriage they are both settling for, don't exactly want, though Elizabeth campaigns for it and Sam goes along, popping the question not long after his third divorce has become final. Formally the story is on the order of a shattered narrative, with line breaks and new scenes every few paragraphs. The narrator is third-person mostly omniscient, mostly looking from Elizabeth's view. It seems to be about exercising the quixotic nature of the search for love as it existed in the early '80s. Except for certain details of ambience (such as prevailing technology) it could happen 100 years ago or 100 years from now. What seems unique might only be the itinerant nature of so many people's love lives, set free within this still relatively new liberated era of marrying for love and pleasure. In that context, in many ways the story focuses on the trauma of divorce. Both Elizabeth and Sam actively want to be married. That's the primary objective—that sense of security that comes from being cocooned with someone, fortified against the world somehow. But it seems unlikely this marriage will last either. They don't seem to know each other very well. Obviously neither means any harm. They are just two confused people, with a 5-year-old in tow. They feel hollow, without centers. I suspect that's the point. And it might have felt fresh or compelling in the early '80s, but now feels like we've been over the ground a few thousand times, like Vietnam.

American Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks

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